The UK Government has launched a consultation into a Deposit Return Scheme (DRS) for England, Wales and Northern Ireland and set out its plan for Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) for the UK.
It has also announced that it foresees a delay to the implementation of a DRS for England, Wales and Northern Ireland, meaning it’s likely a DRS won’t be in place until late 2024 ‘at the earliest’, it says.
Defra said it had to ‘reassess what a realistic timeline for implementation of a deposit return scheme looks like, ensuring that sufficient time is given for a successful roll-out of the scheme.
‘We therefore anticipate that the introduction of a deposit return scheme in England, Wales and Northern Ireland would be in late 2024 at the earliest.’
The second of the DRS consultations, launched today (24 March) will inform how a future scheme might be designed in the ‘best and most coherent way possible’.
The second Extended Producer Responsibility consultation focuses on specific policy proposals for its introduction, including the scope of full net costs, producer obligations, scheme governance, regulation of the scheme, and packaging waste recycling targets.
These new changes will further ensure that more of what we consume is recycled and reused. They will stimulate the creation of alternatives to single-use plastics and establish consistent rules to help people recycle more easily across the country
The proposals set out in this consultation document work together to create a scheme that ‘incentivises producers to design packaging that is easy to recycle and ensure that they pay the full net cost of managing this packaging once it becomes waste’, Defra says.
The packaging changes are being developed on a UK-wide basis, while the DRS will cover England, Wales and Northern Ireland. A separate scheme is already under way in Scotland, and administrations will work to ensure compatibility between the schemes, Defra says.
Government says these ‘landmark reforms’ will boost recycling, tackle plastic pollution and reduce litter in what it’s calling an ‘overhaul’ the waste and resources sector.
The powers in the Government’s Environment Bill set out to make manufacturers more responsible for the packaging they produce and incentivise consumers to recycle more.
Environment Secretary George Eustice said: “Through our world-leading Environment Bill we are transforming the way we deal with waste.
“Tackling plastic pollution lies at the heart of our efforts, and we have already taken steps to ban microbeads, cut supermarket sales of single-use plastic bags by 95% and prohibit the supply of plastic straws, stirrers and cotton buds.
“These new changes will further ensure that more of what we consume is recycled and reused. They will stimulate the creation of alternatives to single-use plastics and establish consistent rules to help people recycle more easily across the country.”
- A Deposit Return Scheme for drinks containers: consumers will be incentivised to take their empty drinks containers to return points hosted by retailers. Every year across the UK, consumers go through an estimated 14 billion plastic drinks bottles, nine billion drinks cans and five billion glass bottles. The scheme would cover England, Wales and Northern Ireland, with a separate scheme already under development in Scotland.
- Extended Producer Responsibility for packaging: manufacturers will pay the full costs of managing and recycling their packaging waste, with higher fees being levied if packaging is harder to reuse or recycle. In 2019, approximately 11.7 million tonnes of packaging was placed on the UK market. We must ensure that more of this recyclable or reusable. The scheme is being developed on a UK-wide basis.
The third of the major reforms will see the introduction of consistent recycling collections for all households and businesses in England. This will also be going out to consultation shortly, government says, which has raised some ‘immediate questions’, according to the Environmental Services Association (ESA).
Executive Director of the ESA, Jacob Hayler, said: “We welcome today’s important progress milestone for Defra’s Resources and Waste Strategy and we look forward to reviewing and responding to these critical consultations in detail alongside our members.
“Fundamentally, the long-term success of these policies will be determined by their ability to make it easier for consumers to recycle properly; to incentivise producers to make things more recyclable; and to underpin investment by our sector in the next generation of new UK recycling infrastructure, so it is through these lenses that we will be considering our responses.
“The complex policy interventions set out in these consultations must be considered holistically rather than in isolation, so the decision to consult separately at a later date on ‘collection consistency’ does raise some immediate questions about whether stakeholders will be able to properly assess how the proposed measures will work together in a systemic way, but we remain hopeful that the full picture will become clearer well before the end of the consultation period.”
A comprehensive Deposit Return Scheme could be a ‘game-changer’ in efforts to reduce the number of discarded plastic bottles that blight our environment, says Friends of the Earth – but that it must include ‘all drinks containers of all sizes’.
Friends of the Earth’s plastics campaigner Camilla Zerr said: “A comprehensive deposit return scheme is needed to boost recycling, cut waste and help stem the relentless flow of discarded plastic bottles that blight our environment and threaten our wildlife.
“However, some of these proposals are far too weak. We need an ‘all in’ scheme that includes bottles, cans and cartons of every size and every material.
“Ministers must stand up to industry lobbying because delaying the scheme until 2024 will create even more unnecessary waste and pollution.
“But focussing on better recycling initiatives like DRS is not enough. Ministers must do far more to reduce the amount of waste produced in the first place.
Ecosurety welcomes the launch of these vital consultations, yet feels it is unfortunate that the Consistent Collection consultation which is intrinsic to the overall functioning of the packaging waste system has not been launched alongside EPR and DRS
“The government must set legally-binding targets to reduce the mountains of plastic waste created every year and ensure that more of our products and packaging are re-used and refilled.”
Commenting on Defra’s newly released consultations, Robbie Staniforth, Head of Innovation and Policy at Ecosurety says: “Ecosurety welcomes the launch of these vital consultations, yet feels it is unfortunate that the Consistent Collection consultation which is intrinsic to the overall functioning of the packaging waste system has not been launched alongside EPR and DRS.
“Given the shortened consultation period, we hope there is significant overlap of the consultations and that the Government’s views on consistent collections in England are made apparent soon.”
Regarding the DRS and EPR consultations, Mr Staniforth said: “Thanks to Defra’s extensive engagement plan over the last 18 months, much of the content of these consultations is very familiar, with Ecosurety’s input on certain aspects of the EPR system’s design clearly having been taken into consideration.
“We look forward to exchanging views with all stakeholders over the forthcoming weeks, with a view to ensuring the new system is workable from go-live. Bearing in mind the outcomes of the EPR consultation will define the packaging waste system in place for several decades, it is essential that all sectors are well represented and they reply to the consultation directly.”
Meeting the ‘collective challenge’
John Scanlon, CEO of SUEZ recycling and recovery UK, said the consultations will be ‘critical’ to transforming the UK’s approach to the way it makes, consumes and disposes of products and their packaging, “moving us along the road to a more circular economy and our 2050 net zero ambition.”
He said: “The reforms will bring about the biggest change to our sector in well over a decade. Their success is contingent on individuals and organisations from across the value chain coming together to meet the collective challenge of helping government shape the fine detail of its reforms to extended producer responsibility and the design of a complimentary deposit return scheme.”
On the upcoming consultation on consistency in waste and recycling collections, he said: “We need to guard against a piecemeal approach to change and have an eye to ensuring the cumulative outcome of all three consultations provides a holistic view and delivers well-designed systemic change.
“As we begin to emerge from a pandemic that put many aspects of our lives on hold for the last year, we look forward to working with our peers across sectors to drive forward a green recovery and a more circular economy for the next 25 years.”